Are You Ready for Some Baseball?
In the past few weeks, MLB (and other professional sports leagues) have been exploring options to safely begin play again. Just today, the PGA released plans to begin tournament play in June. It is assumed MLB will follow suit. While crowds may be out of the question for right now, the league has put forward a very intriguing proposal that would keep MLB franchises in their Spring Training homes. Rather than an American and National League, there would be a Cactus and Grapefruit League. Divisions would be created based on geographic location, in effort to limit travel.
Here’s a look at what the proposed divisions would look like:
Northeast: Cubs (Mesa), Athletics (Mesa), Giants (Scottsdale), Diamondbacks (Salt River) and Rockies (Salt River).
West: Dodgers (Glendale), White Sox (Glendale), Reds (Goodyear), Indians (Goodyear) and Angels (Tempe).
Northwest: Brewers (Phoenix), Padres (Peoria), Mariners (Peoria), Rangers (Surprise) and Royals (Surprise),
North: Yankees (Tampa), Phillies (Clearwater), Blue Jays (Dunedin), Tigers (Lakeland) and Pirates (Bradenton).
South: Red Sox (Ft. Myers), Twins (Ft. Myers), Braves (North Port), Rays (Port Charlotte) and Orioles (Sarasota).
East: Nationals (Palm Beach), Astros (Palm Beach), Mets (Port St. Lucie), Cardinals (Jupiter) and Marlins (Jupiter).
The exciting thing about this plan would be the new league and division match ups. Let’s assume there would be a newly created schedule and no inter-league play, many new and interesting match-ups would take place. Without inter-league play the number of games between division rivals should increase. The Nationals vs Astros could rekindle their World Series match-up many times over. Rivalries could emerge between the Red Sox and Braves or the Yankees and Phillies in Florida.
In Arizona, the Angels and Dodgers would play out their Freeway Series between Glendale and Tempe. The battle of Ohio would happen at the same facility in Goodyear, between the Indians and Reds. Strangely, the Northeast division looks almost identical to the NL West, swapping out the Dodgers for the Cubs.
Florida has two domed or retractable roof stadiums in St. Petersburg and Miami. Arizona has Chase Field in Phoenix. These stadiums could serve as venues for regular season games (if needed) and the postseason. This plan could take off in the coming weeks, but there are many unanswered questions. Some of these include:
Would MLB resume Spring Training for another couple weeks before starting the regular season?
When Spring Training was called off in mid-March, they were still a few weeks away from Opening Day. Everyone was sent home and training stopped. Players may need a couple more weeks of practices and exhibition games before the regular season begins. This could push Opening Day out even further.
Would they play 162 regular season games, or modify the schedule?
For the sake of this article, let’s pretend teams begin practices again in mid-May and the season begins June 1. It is hard to imagine the World Series happening around Christmas. It sounds like the league would schedule double headers, which would cut down on the days. Travel days could be eliminated, as all the teams would be within a few hours drive. The All-Star Break could also be eliminated. These measures would help shorten the season, but not enough to done by November. Perhaps one solution would be to take 20 or 30 games off this season. It will be interesting to see how MLB sorts this out.
If crowds were ever able to come back, what might that look like?
It would be hard to imagine MLB starting the season allowing crowds (at least right away). Soccer is scheduled to return in Italy and other European countries by May and will play without crowds. Like everything surrounding the current pandemic, the situation seems to change by the week. Suppose MLB adopts the Arizona / Florida plan, it is possible that crowds — even limited crowds — would be allowed at some point in the season. As college and professional football looks to return in August / September, baseball’s experimental season may be a couple months ahead.
MLB teams would not be playing in front of hometown crowds, but they would certainly generate interest in their Spring Training markets. MLB would serve as a testing ground for new strategies for a safe return to live sporting events. Given that we are all still in lock-down mode, this is a little hard to imagine. However, things will have to return to some version of normal at some point. There are a few questions yet to be answered about this, like: Will fans wear masks to the ballpark? Will the league limit the amount of seats that are sold to for purposes of social distancing? Will there be temperature checks at the gates? Certainly, you can imagine hand-sanitizer stations around every turn.
A new normal
There are many questions about what live sporting events look like in the CORVID and post-CORVID era. Things will unlikely be normal for quite a while and new procedures may be put in place permanently. In some ways, similar to the way that metal detectors and bag checks became the new norm post-9/11. We may have to get used to a new normal once again. As realities change, fans will have to find ways to adapt. However, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel. This new plan offers us some hope that baseball will return this season. Are you ready for some baseball? I sure am.